Popular phrases are often popular for a good reason. A few choice words arranged just the right way can get us thinking, or inspire us. Sometimes the most obvious ones are the best, even when they’re easy to make fun of. Nike’s sage advice to ‘Just Do It’ is not for people contemplating suicide or murder, although even they can buy the shirt. It’s for folks who have figured out what they want to do with the next moment, or their lives, assuming that thing is positive. No one thinks you should just do whatever pops into your head without thinking it through; that’s not how shoe companies, or lives, are built.
We’ve all heard the one about writers, and it’s another good one. It’s a great thing to do that thing that means the most to you, whatever it is. For some of us, it’s writing. All kinds of stuff goes with writing, though; and it can be as easy to neglect any one of those things as it can be to neglect the writing itself. When the groundwork is done, the writer writes; the writer who writes without planning and preparation is as likely to complete a presentable product as the person who decides to up and run a marathon is to ‘Just Do It’.
This post doesn’t apply to folks just writing for their own introspective reasons. I mean, it does; but it applies in a whole different way. I’ve said plenty to the writer who writes as a path to themselves; this post is for authors, or would-be authors. There’s a lot more to writing a book than just sitting down and hammering away. That’s an important part of it, but it does not create a finished product on its own; it’s also a terrible place to get started.
If you don’t know what it is you want to say, you aren’t ready to say it. You might need to figure that out first, depending on what you are wanting to write. What is your unique message, or view of something? Are you writing to please the lukewarm masses or to really put yourself out there? Are you willing to admit to your mistakes, or do you want to come off as perfect? Do you want to share the lessons that have affected you most deeply, even if it’s a little scary to do so, or do you want to tell fun stories that don’t challenge anyone’s beliefs? There are a lot of questions the writer needs to answer before the first idea can take shape, or the first outline can be written. These are not questions to be answered mid-novel; that will clunk it up for sure. If you’re not clear on who you are, and what you want to say, it’s not time to write that book yet. It’s time to do those things other authors do.
The writer writes, sure; but the author reads, researches, outlines, sits with the story, meditates, edits, rewrites, learns deliberately, prays for guidance in their own way, and reads their own writing as critically as they can. Writing a book is lonely work, and you have to make sure that you have thought everything through before you get to it. When that lonely work is over, it’s time to make sure you didn’t go crazy in all that alone time. You have to put that work out there, to beta readers or editors, and forget about all that time you just spent. They don’t know about it, the folks who see mistakes or inconsistencies in your manuscript; they don’t know what it’s like to have your head in this story for so long. They’re too busy going nuts over the fact that you don’t know the difference between ‘they’re’, ‘their’, and ‘there’.
I think a writing schedule is one of the most important parts of an author’s life. Making sure I sit down every day that I have it scheduled to sit down, and write the number of words I set before myself to write, helps me be a better author in many ways. Part of that is knowing that I’ll be getting to that point every day, and have to be ready for it. If I don’t have the story in mind, and let it speak to me as I go about my day, I’ll be staring at a blank page for an hour or two instead of writing. If my outline is incomplete, or nonexistent, I’m not ready to write at the pace that I can with that guidance. My writing goals have to reflect what I am ready and willing to write that day; if I fall short, or don’t try, I fail myself and my reader. Worst of all, I fail my legacy. That’s not acceptable, so I almost never miss a day of scheduled writing. Or all the things I have to do to be ready for it.
So, yeah…a writer writes. As do a lot of people. They write to communicate, or record sales, or voice their thoughts in a journal. They don’t write to publish books, though; that’s the realm of the author. It does take writing to be an author, there’s no denying that; but it takes a lot more than just writing. If anything is the most important thing, it’s passion; but passion drives a rudderless boat without dedication and organization. The writer writes, true; but the author brings together a variety of ingredients in producing a book. Writing is only one of the many skills required in being an author.
The other thing I think it’s important for the author to do is live. A life of books is a wonderful life, but it’s only part of a balanced intellectual and spiritual diet. Even the most eloquent words grow stale when they come from a brain that never gets fresh air. Comics know that it’s a hack move to talk about airplane travel and hotel rooms; audiences don’t relate, and it’s all been done. Resist the temptation to write another story about another boring writer; work a day job for a few weeks or months that you never would have worked, and give your protagonist that job. It’s a chance to connect with folks, and understand who you’re writing for. The author’s job is to translate the cacophony of life into mentally digestible collections of words. We need to have as broad and varied a perspective as we can; we should be out there experiencing something other than the unique world of writing, or the same things we did yesterday.
We introverts love the idea of shutting out the world, and pulling out our magic creating device. The magic in that wand comes from the world out there, though; the words on the tip of your tongue were spoken first by someone else, in some other order. Writing shouldn’t be a completely solitary lifestyle choice, nor should it keep the author from that world out there. Our characters step outside their comfort zones, all the time. We can’t write convincingly about that if we don’t know what it’s like to step outside our comfort zones as well. It’s a good way to work on that sense of humor, and stay in touch with the world you’re writing for.
We’ll get back to the story in progress, next week, and talk about where I thought I needed to go after getting my next manuscript hand-written. We’ll even talk about where I actually needed to go. Next week.
Thanks for reading!